2019 Audi e-tron side-camera system: Is the U.S. missing out?

2019 Audi e-tron first drive – Abu Dhabi UAE, December 2018

Side-camera systems, replacing side mirrors, have been one of the de rigueur symbols of the future on auto-show concept cars for, well, pretty much this entire century so far.

While we’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of such systems for nearly as long—they’re not allowed by U.S. FMVSS standards, though now permitted in other world regions—some recent time with the system during our 2019 Audi e-tron first drive report was eye-opening.

According to Audi, the e-tron will be the first series-production vehicle in the world to offer a setup such as this, which uses small, aerodynamically streamlined side cameras.

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The new Lexus ES, in some markets, will use a similar system, with its debut potentially sooner, but the Audi definitely wins for the slickest, smoothest integration of the system into the cabin design. On the forward upper sill of the front doors—where you otherwise might expect to see a small speaker—there’s a 7-inch, 1280×1080 OLED screen.

Audi puts the camera system on the e-tron for aerodynamics and efficiency (and less wind noise). It improves the coefficient of drag, from 0.28 in U.S. versions to 0.27 for a Euro-spec version with the system, which translates to up to 3 miles of range at (higher) highway speeds. It also reduces total vehicle width by 5.9 inches.

2019 Audi e-tron first drive – Abu Dhabi UAE, December 2018

Aiming the mirrors to fit your driving position is quite straightforward—certainly more so than the steering-wheel rollers you use to adjust mirrors on a Tesla Model 3. Here, you just tap an icon on the mirror touch screen, then ‘drag’ it in the direction you want displayed. Zooming in and out with the mirror are intuitive enough, too, in this world of smartphones and tablets. There are pre-programmed angles for highway driving, urban turns, and parking, but we didn’t find and use those in our drive (we were more focused on getting driving impressions of the entire vehicle).

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But driving along in the mid-afternoon sun on desert highways near Abu Dhabi, we did notice some bothersome details. The screens got bleached-out in bright sunlight; and seeing our Euro-spec e-tron had no sunroof, it’s hard to imagine those screens playing well with the panoramic sunroof that U.S. versions will get.

At night we expected it to show off its image-processing strengths, but in the dark, passing in and out of overhead lighting on a freeway, we found the headlights of vehicles close behind to have splotchy halos that bleached out much of the screen, as it became more granular in an attempt to adapt to the dark scene like a camera out of ISO stops.

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